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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Golf


Golf And Zen

Chapter 2: The Fundamental Truth

Wayne Smith

This is the second in a continuing series of short essays dealing with the application of Eastern spiritual philosophy to your golf game.

The surface intent is that, as you apply the ideas, your golf and your enjoyment of the game will grow. However there is also an underlying motive: as you are able to see gains on the course, you'll then be moved to alter your approach to life as well.)

Today's Topic: The Fundamental Truth

In these articles, I'll be simplifying as we talk about the Eastern philosophies, and this topic title is a good example. Buddhism actually opens its doors with The Four Noble Truths.

The first of those is that our experience is marked by suffering. Living means to suffer. The Eastern term is "dukka."

The second shows the source of dukka to be desire, and the third shows how we can eliminate suffering; if it is desire that leads to suffering, then the obvious solution is to stop desiring. Obvious, sure, but we would agree it isn't easy.

This doesn't mean we stop living, that we give up work, play, relationships, learning and growth, or even that we forsake goals. It does mean we stop agonizing about it all. Some things we'll never have. I won't be the next Senator from Pennsylvania, and I'm not going to make the PGA tour. That's obvious enough, but most of us continue to hunger after things that are permanently outside our grasp, without admitting it to ourselves.

Or, there are goals that we can eventually reach but that we don't have this minute. I'd like to have a retirement home in Asheville, North Carolina. But I don't, today, and if I obsess about it I can easily lose sight of the pleasures of my current life. It's a fundamental: hungering after something not yet here contaminates our today.

So, the fundamental truth we're talking about is this. Whatever we have today is everything we need -- today.

The last of the Noble Truths lays out how to let go of desire: by following the Eightfold Path (understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration). But the Path a big subject and is for the future; I'll certainly do a piece on each of those steps along the Path in future articles.

For now, the connection to golf is obvious to any of us that have suffered on the course. And who of us hasn't suffered? Ever throw a club? Dress yourself down -- either out loud or within your mind?

Beyond the momentary outbursts, is your enjoyment of the game in general contaminated by not being good enough? Are you reluctant to play with people that are better? Do you despair about lack of improvement? Do you think about giving up?

The First Noble Truth within Buddhism is equally true on the golf course; our golfing dukka comes from our excessive desire, from our grasping after success. And here's the real secret… that comes from playing golf in an ego-driven state. If we're playing to re-enforce our own ego -- either to others or to ourselves -- then we're going to struggle.

The answer lies in a simple (granted, difficult) idea: we are, today, only what we are today; our swing is what it is; our mental game is what it is. Therefore -- we're perfect -- today. We can let our self focus on the beauty of the walk in the park, on the companionship of friends. We can be alert, we can pay attention, we can be mindful of everything we see and experience, we can allow our game to be what it is, and we can trust that we're on a path that will take us to higher levels as we continue move along. And that's true!

I'll be giving you lots of 'tips' or 'thought exercises' as we move through these articles, and here's one that applies to this subject. You can reduce your grasping (and thereby, your golf-course dukka) by detaching for the outcome. Laird Small, the head pro at Pebble Beach, calls it "NATO: Not Attached To Outcome."

Here's one way of doing that. Your golf-course job is to swing the club in a graceful, rhythmic, and balanced way. The Golf God's job is to move the ball to a new point, for your next test. Your job is only to be mindful of how well you perform your task and to then get out of the way and let the Golf God do his. Try that, next time out.

Related articles:
Golf and Zen Chapter 1: 'West' versus East'
Golf and Zen Chapter 3: You Already Know

Copyright © Wayne Smith -

Wayne Smith is a former DuPont manufacturing manager, seminar leader, industry consultant, and is the author of two books: a manufacturing text and a golf novel. He is a close-up magician and has been a life-long golf searcher. A father of two, he lives in the Philadelphia area. You can view his golf book at

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